Going Solo; Confessions & Inspirations - Stacey M. Washington
This chapter of Going Solo; Confessions & Inspirations is brought to you by Michigan Attorney, Stacey M. Washington. Her story is intimate and honest and one I think many will relate to.... whether they want to or not.
Guest Blogger - Stacey M. Washington
Many people ask me why I became a lawyer. I decided to become a lawyer in eleventh grade. I’d only met one lawyer and one judge in my young life. Other than plenty of Perry Mason, I knew nothing about the legal profession. But, I was inspired. It seemed like an interesting profession. After 21 years as a practicing attorney, I still believe it is interesting and know that it is what I am meant to do.
Almost exactly nine years ago, my life turned upside down personally and professionally. I had a young child and decided to get a divorce after ten years of marriage. Shortly thereafter, I was publicly humiliated, made a scapegoat and lost my job with a public employer. My back against the wall, I became a reluctant litigant. I went deep into debt, couldn’t get a job and had a child to support. I reluctantly and desperately hung out my shingle. I had no idea how to run a law practice. I had no real desire to be a solo practitioner. I was angry, depressed, and scared. Not surprisingly, I resumed my job search shortly after I settled my lawsuit (after three agonizing years). My first attempt as a solo practitioner lasted about two years – I’d wasted a year trying to find a “real” job.
Almost immediately after I returned to work for two different employers, I knew I’d made a mistake but needed to prove to myself and others that I wasn’t “damaged” goods. Well, I proved that I could get a job and be a good attorney and employee. I was miserable. I had long commutes – no one in my small county would dare challenge the politicos and hire me. I suffered migraines. Extreme weight loss on an already skinny body. A pre-pubescent child who felt (and was) neglected because I was either working or driving. I feared I was going to die if I didn’t get off the merry-go-round.
After much thought, I decided that I was better off working for myself and closer to home. I gave my boss my notice twice because she didn’t believe me. How could I give up a good job and steady paycheck just because of a little stress? I immediately felt the monkey jump off my back. What a relief!
I realized I’d learned more about how to run a law practice. My boss even offered to give me some contract work. That contract work paid for my new computer and some other office expenses.
I’ve learned to work more efficiently. I rely heavily on technology – PDA, voice mail, remote email, web site, etc. My clients don’t seem to care that I don’t have a secretary. They seem to care more that I exude happiness and calm. Finally.
Six months ago, I dramatically shifted the focus of my practice. I’d practiced labor and employment law for more than a decade. Despite having at least one good year in that area, the calls lessened enough to give me time to realize I was burned out in that practice area. It involved a lot of work at a contingency fee. My attitude was becoming negative again. I made a business decision to become a family and criminal law attorney – hourly fees and retainers for more regular income!
After I decided to hang out my shingle because I knew that I really wanted to do it, I have been much happier. I have a flexible schedule. My bills are paid. My teenager even talks to me, sometimes. I’ve lost a few “friends” and naysayers along the way. I have no doubt that the practice will continue to develop in good ways. I’ve learned that the most important thing is I’m doing what I love on my own terms – the money will follow.
Stacey M. Washington
Attorney and Counselor
214 South Main Street, Suite 207
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
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(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.
If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my RSS! If you would like to be part of a new educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students subscribe to the RSS for Solo Practice University.
And you can always follow me on Twitter :-)